(AFP) – Feb 20, 2012
RIGA — Latvian politicians met Monday after a failed weekend referendum on introducing Russian as an official language to spur constitutional changes aimed at nipping future such votes in the bud.
On Saturday, voters decisively rejected attempts to introduce Russian as a second official language alongside Latvian, exposing deep divisions in society between the Latvian majority and Latvia's large Russian minority.
Latvian leaders have hailed results showing a 75 percent "no" vote as proof of their country's formal break with its Soviet-dominated past.
But in a bid to prevent future moves challenging the pre-eminence of Latvian, President Andris Berzins on Monday vowed constitutional amendments giving "greater protection to the foundations of the state," including "the processes governing referendums and the funding of referendum campaigns."
Concern is also rising that the relative ease with which referendums can be called may see the country slipping into government by plebiscite with agitators using the law to perpetuate a continuous -- and expensive -- series of votes.
After talks with Berzins Monday, parliamentary speaker Solvita Aboltina said action was needed "so the minority does not dictate the rules to the majority" and to prevent non-Latvian financing in future referendum campaigns.
Saturday's plebiscite was the second in less than a year. Under the Latvian constitution, anyone who can collect the signatures of 10 percent of the electorate in support of proposed legislation can initiate a referendum on it.
Turnout was 71 percent, and nearly 1.1 million of Latvia's two million total population voted by three to one against granting Russian official status, making the plebiscite the most popular in Latvian history.
Russian-language activist Vladimirs Lindermans, head of the Native Tongue group which initiated the latest referendum, has been depicted in local media as an agent of Moscow and the sources of his funding remain murky.
A pro-Russian party scored an unprecedented win in Latvia's September 2011 snap election but fell short of the absolute majority needed to take power in the ex-Soviet EU state, leaving power to a three-way coalition of mainstream parties.
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